The scene had an almost biblical quality to it. On May 28, the waters of Mexico City’s most famous fountain turned blood-red. It was a surreal sight, but one with a very down-to-earth message: stop Mexico’s drug war.
The event was part of a grassroots campaign called “Paremos las balas, pintemos las fuentes” (Stop bullets, paint fountains), which saw 23 fountains dyed in Mexico city last month. It took place on Paseo de la Reforma avenue, one of the city’s busiest and most iconic streets. Pedestrians watched wide-eyed as activists poured dye into the fountain of Diana Cazadora (Diana the Huntress), until it’s overlapping basins looked like multiple pools of blood. The activists then marched around the fountain shouting slogans such as “Not one more dead!” and “Enough Violence”.
The group explains that the red fountains aimed to draw attention to the “rivers of blood” that have been spilled due to drug-related violence in Mexico – which regularly sees gang members beheaded in brutal slayings, as well as innocent bystanders, which in a recent case included kindergarten children, caught in the crossfire between police and dealers.
According to the Mexican government, a total of 34,612 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico over the past four years. 2010 has been the bloodiest year so far, with 15,273 drug-related murders. Violence has tended to be concentrated in Mexico’s northern Chihuahua region, which is at the the heart of a lucrative trade between drugs heading north to the US and weapons flowing south. Ciudad Juarez (just across the border from El Paso in Texas) is the city suffering the most: 3,100 people were killed there in 2010 alone, including many women.
Mexico City’s Diana Cazadora fountain tainted red on May 28. Photos originally posted here
“For some reason, people react very strongly to sight of red water”
Victor Garcia Zapata is an anti-drug activist in Mexico City. He is one of the organizers of the ‘Paremos las balas, pintemos las Fuentes’ movement.
The idea of dying fountains red came up almost by accident. I and a group of friends – mostly artists and political activists from Mexico City – were discussing ways of showing our support to Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s call for a “National Pact for Peace” on May 8 [a list of propositions to shift the fight against organized crime from a militaristic approach to a public safety and anti-corruption strategy; full text in Spanish here]. We wanted to organise events that would draw attention to his message and get as many citizens and organizations as possible to endorse the pact. The dye is vegetable-based paint that dissolves fairly easily and does not stain the monument itself.
“Our message is addressed mainly to the government”
The ‘blood fountains’ were part of a series of other public actions (demonstrations, video projections, art installations), but they were by far the ones that drew most attention. For some reason, people react very strongly to the sight of red water: they stop in their tracks, ask questions, some get very emotional. Maybe it’s the biblical connotations, maybe the fountains remind them of the “narco-pozos” [wells containing bodies] that have been discovered across the country in recent weeks.
Our message to stop the violence is partly addressed to drug traffickers, of course, but mainly to the government. We believe it needs to change track entirely in the war on drugs. It’s no use pitting violence against violence. If actions like the blood fountains help mobilize public opinion enough to put pressure on the government and push for change, then I consider them a success.”